Pressure mounts as concern grows over sluggish wages, depleted morale

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Tensions between faculty and the administration have reached a deadlock as concerns grow over a lack of employee morale and stagnant wages.

Faculty were asked to submit questions anonymously to Faculty Senate Chair Kenny Purcell for the administration in early August.

Concerns listed in the questions were categorized into three categories: faculty and staff morale, lack of communicated vision and accountability.

Faculty and staff expressed that they feel unappreciated; that their education, experience and training has not been acknowledged or respected, Purcell said at the university-wide meeting Aug. 13.

“A detailed plan is needed to reverse the increasing sense of job dissatisfaction among employees, explicitly addressing the reduction of wages in real terms,” he said.

Many employees are frustrated with the lack of transparency of a shared vision or any strategy to overcome the current challenges regarding low enrollment according to the submitted questions.

They feel the university leadership should be communicating their goals, soliciting employee input and providing training to employees on recruitment and retention strategies.

“Faculty and staff are interested in and desperately need to hear a detailed plan for the future,” Purcell said.

Employees also don’t feel leadership is held accountable for job performance and would like to know by what metrics university leadership are evaluated, specifically senior leadership responsible for recruitment and retention efforts.

“A free and open exchange of ideas between an engaged faculty and staff on one side and a receptive and transparent university leadership on the other is essential to the continued success of our students and the future of our great institution,” he said.

The university governance groups – Administrative Senate, Faculty Senate and Staff Council – organized several listening sessions to give faculty and staff the opportunity to ask administrators additional questions and submit suggestions.

Reporters for The Shield were barred from these sessions. Purcell said the meetings were only open to faculty but future town hall meetings will be open to the public.

“I’m not interested in leading with the office door closed,” President Ron Rochon said. “That is not who I am, that is not who I will become. If morale is an issue, let’s work together on building it together.”

Rochon said he had an “agonizing” discussion with former Chair of the Board of Trustees Harold Calloway due to not being able to give raises this year.

The university will run a $1.3 million deficit this year, primarily resulting from a decrease in the  number of credit hours students are taking, 

Raising salaries by 1% would create a $2 million deficit according to Rochon. Twenty full-time positions would have to be eliminated to cover the deficit.

“That decision for me was a no brainer,” he said. “I decided this was not an option.”

Rochon stressed that compensation will remain a priority as long as he serves as president. The Faculty Senate has requested salary increases for the past few years during the university’s annual budget hearings. Those requests have not been met.

“We need your engaged brilliance on how to move this needle,” Rochon said. “We do not want to be in a place where salary increases are not possible and even worse, where cuts are required to be made.”

Low tuition revenue largely stems from students coming in with college credit earned through dual-credit classes during their high school years. This prevents the university from collecting tuition on those credit hours.

Student fees and tuition made up 44.3% of revenue for the university in 2018-2019. Appropriations from the state of Indiana made up 49.8% of revenue, while other income, such as donations, made up 5.9% of revenue. 

This is a 10% increase from 2008-2009 when student fees made up only 35.4% of revenue while state appropriations made up 61.7%.

State appropriations increased in both years of the biennial budget in 2019-2020 and 2020-2021, granting the university $900,000 additional funding in 2019-2020 and $700,000 new money in 2020-2021, yet none of these additional monies will fund wage increases.

“For every dollar we receive from the state, the reality is that both the increases to our state budget and our tuition rates are still below the rate of inflation,” he said.

Rochon said a common refrain he hears is that the arena, the aquatic center, the welcome center and the improvements to the health professions buildings are examples of spending that could be applied to increase salaries for university faculty and staff. 

Those projects, he said, come from one-time capital project line items that are specifically funded by the state through the issue of bonds and cash reserves.

Rochon will begin appointing a strategic planning committee with representatives from each of the university governance groups to begin working on the next strategic plan in order to move forward on a plan to solve the growing challenges.

Despite the obstacles, Rochon said he wants faculty and staff to know their work is important to the success of the university.

“Despite the fact that we are not where any of us want to be, please know that your efforts do not go unnoticed,” he said. “You are appreciated. You are appreciated.”

Several faculty members were approached for comment following the meeting and all declined.

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